836M’s New Residency Is All About Cartoonists

Rina Ayuyang: “The Man in the McIntosh Suit” (Courtesy of 836M)

For curators of the nine-year-old nonprofit arts organization 836M, located under archways in a charming building in San Francisco’s Jackson Square neighborhood, the idea of hosting a four-month residency for cartoonists, graphic novelists and zine makers presented an intriguing challenge.

“It’s going to be exciting to have this residency program in a medium that we haven’t really explored before and that the public usually only sees once it’s published,” says 836M associate curator Jade Fogle. The residency runs through September 29, with opening and closing events on May 25 and September 28. “We really wanted to emphasize that the process of making art is just as important as the finalized piece.”

The setup in the gallery will be hybrid, part workshop and part informal coffee shop where visitors can come in and see the diverse styles of the four local artists — Rina Ayuyang, Tyler Cohen, Janelle Hessig and Thien Pham — unfold as they work on and ultimately complete their creations. “We really want to make it comfortable for the visitor to come in and not feel like they’re interrupting the creative process, but to be able to engage with it and talk to the artist,” Fogle says.

According to Fogle, the ability to see the creative process unfold will be a unique experience for visitors. “What you might have seen when you visited the first time is going to be drastically different in a couple months, or even a couple of weeks,” she says. “We would really love to invite the viewer to return to have more conversations and engagement and see how these things develop — in that way, they end up being a part of that creative process.”

As for how popular graphic novels are in the Bay Area, she says the style has deep roots here and points to the Cartoon Art Museum, bookstores like Silver Sprocket and even the Charles M. Schulz Museum as proof. “Graphic novels are rooted in the American psyche,” she says. “There’s a community here that is deeply involved in it.”

She adds that graphic novels can be as impactful as a Picasso, while also being accessible. “Graphic novels are an easier and cheaper way to disseminate information, ideas and thoughts,” she says. “The subjects that are explored in comics and graphic novels are personal, are pertinent to the larger scope of socioeconomic and political themes and can be easier for a viewer to feel more connected to since it doesn’t carry that academic weight.”

Not being experts in the cartoonist and graphic novel realm, Fogle and programing director Céline Ricci enlisted the help of co-curator and participating Oakland artist Rina Ayuyang, whose graphic novel Blame This on the Boogie appeared on the best-of-year lists in Forbes, London Free Press and Publishers Weekly.

“I am very excited to collaborate with this talented group of cartoonists who have been telling powerful stories through their amazing comics for years here in the Bay Area,” Ayuyang says. “The work that they are about to share through the 836M residency celebrates the diverse voices and upholds the cartoonist tradition of evocative artistic expression that is, at its very heart, San Francisco.”

image of Tyler Cohen comic
Tyler Cohen: “Semantic Shift” (Courtesy of 836M)